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Mugabe Commits To Runoff Election

Capital Tense Amid Signs of Crackdown

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Zimbabwe's main opposition party says current President Robert Mugabe has 'unleashed a war' in his bid to stay in office. They say some of their offices were raided on Thursday. Video by AP
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Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, April 5, 2008

HARARE, Zimbabwe, April 4 -- President Robert Mugabe's party acknowledged Friday that it lost last weekend's historic presidential election but vowed to fight back in a second round of voting that many Zimbabweans fear will be much less peaceful than the first.

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The announcement came on a day of sharply rising tensions in Harare, the capital, as signs mounted that Mugabe was preparing to use extraordinary measures to regain control amid the biggest challenge to his rule since Zimbabwe gained independence in 1980. Riot police and trucks mounted with water cannons appeared on city streets. The country's feared association of liberation war veterans, which has long served as Mugabe's enforcer, threatened to deploy.

A top ruling party official, Didymus Mutasa, said party officials were planning to "purge" the electoral commission of alleged opposition supporters and would challenge the results of 16 seats in the lower house of parliament, enough to let them retake control of the chamber they lost in results announced this week.

Diplomats and opposition officials also said Mugabe, 84, was considering whether to invoke emergency powers to delay the presidential runoff election for 90 days in a bid to improve his chances of winning.

Mutasa did not say when the runoff would occur but said a second round was necessary. "This time we will be more vigilant, and I'm sure we will win by a wide margin," he said.

Mutasa said Mugabe got 43 percent of the vote in Saturday's election, compared with 47 percent for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The numbers are close to those reported by independent observers. The opposition party says Tsvangirai narrowly topped 50 percent, which would allow him to avoid the second round of voting automatically required when no candidate wins a clear majority. Official results in the presidential race remain unannounced.

After days of reports that Mugabe's closest associates were split over whether he should participate in a runoff or step down, the 49-member ruling body of his Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front met for five boisterous hours Friday. It voted unanimously to fight on in a second round, Mutasa said.

"The old man is raring to go," he said.

The announcements came after days of rumors and reports that Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe into a devastating economic morass, was considering stepping down at the urging of some family members and friends. Instead, Zimbabweans braced for a return to the violent politics common in earlier elections but largely absent in the run-up to Saturday's vote.

"Mugabe, after a defeat he did not expect, surely cannot want to face another election without a bag of dirty tricks," said Nomore Mutizwa, 32, who runs a cellphone shop in Harare. "I'm sure people will be beaten up and intimidated, especially in the rural areas."

Others prepared to meet any violence with resistance.

"We need to fight for our country," said Calisto Sibanda, 23, a black-market fuel trader.


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